Patrick Brown has ended his bid to replace himself, calling a halt to his tumultuous campaign to recapture Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party leadership after only 10 days.
Just over a month after allegations of sexual misconduct led Mr. Brown to resign as the head of Ontario's Official Opposition, the Barrie-area politician dropped out of the leadership race on Monday afternoon, pledging in a four-page letter shared on Twitter to remain a "volunteer, donor and activist," but remaining silent on whether he will be a candidate in the June 7 election.
Mr. Brown's announcement came on the same day the province's Integrity Commissioner's office said it is looking into Mr. Brown's finances.
Mr. Brown said his campaign had become a distraction for the party and was taking a toll on his family.
"It has become increasingly evident that my participation in this democratic race has, for some, become a source of distraction from the real goal of replacing the tired Liberal government with a pragmatic, moderate, fiscally responsible alternative," Mr. Brown wrote in announcing his withdrawal.
Only hours earlier, Mr. Brown's leadership campaign had told supporters he was ahead in the race for the party's top job when a new leader is elected on March 10.
"I want to thank Patrick Brown for making the right decision for himself and the Ontario PC Party," Interim Leader Vic Fedeli said in a statement shortly after the announcement. "He is right to focus on clearing his name."
On Feb. 16, the day Mr. Brown jumped into the leadership race, Mr. Fedeli removed him from the party's caucus, leaving him sitting in the legislature as an independent. A spokeswoman for Mr. Brown did not respond to questions on Monday about whether he intends to run for a seat in the legislature.
Mr. Brown's departure leaves four candidates in the race: former Toronto councillor Doug Ford; former Tory MPP Christine Elliott; political newcomer Caroline Mulroney; and Tanya Granic Allen, an activist who opposes Ontario's new sex-education curriculum. The remaining candidates will face off during the second debate of the leadership campaign on Wednesday.
Ms. Elliott called for unity in the party after Mr. Brown's withdrawal. In a statement, Ms. Mulroney welcomed Mr. Brown's decision – last week she called for the former leader to exit the race. "Now more than ever, we need to move forward without these distractions. Patrick has done the right thing," Ms. Mulroney said.
Because Mr. Brown withdrew after the party's deadline, his name will appear on the leadership ballot. The PC Party also confirmed that the former leader will not get his $75,000 registration fee back.
On Monday, Mr. Brown said he will focus on clearing his name from the allegations he has faced over the past month. He added that the race was difficult on people in his family and that some needed medical intervention because of panic attacks. "Shots were fired indiscriminately against anyone associated with me," he said.
Since his resignation in late January, Mr. Brown has faced questions about his personal finances and allegations of meddling in local nomination races. After replacing Mr. Brown, Mr. Fedeli said that "rot" had been allowed to grow on Mr. Brown's watch.
However, in launching his leadership bid, Mr. Brown, 39, said he had cleared his name and was ready to lead the party to victory against Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Mr. Brown held an energetic campaign launch near Toronto in mid-February where he was joined on stage by 18 candidates nominated to run for the party in the next election. A party vetting committee approved Mr. Brown's bid for the Tory leadership on Feb. 21. Tory MPP Lisa Thompson, a member of the committee, later told The Globe and Mail she felt the process was "manipulated" to ensure Mr. Brown could enter.
Todd Smith, the co-chair of Ms. Elliott's campaign, said on Monday that Mr. Brown's presence in the race was distracting from the other candidates. "The air has been sucked out of this campaign because of all of the stories that have been swirling around Patrick Brown, there are certain candidates in the race that really want to get their name out there and make sure people don't forget about them," he said.
While Ms. Elliott has said that if she becomes leader, Mr. Brown could serve under her as long as he clears his name, Mr. Smith said it is unclear what political future, if any, the former leader sees for himself.
On Feb. 19, The Globe reported that Mr. Brown had discussed a $375,000 transaction with a future PC candidate. Under the proposed deal, Mr. Brown was to sell an interest in a restaurant he partly owns and some Aeroplan miles to Jass Johal, a Brampton paralegal who went on to become a Tory candidate.
The proposed transaction occurred around the time Mr. Brown bought a home on Lake Simcoe's Shanty Bay for $2.3-million. Mr. Brown told The Globe in an e-mail that "no deal was ever done" and Mr. Johal did not return several e-mails and phone messages.
When asked how he could afford the house on his salary of $180,886 a year as leader of the Official Opposition, Mr. Brown responded in the e-mail: "Like many people in Ontario, I received help from my family purchasing my home."
After the proposed transaction was reported, it formed part of a complaint Tory MPP Randy Hillier filed with the Integrity Commissioner.
Mr. Brown was forced to resign in January after CTV News aired allegations of sexual misconduct with two women. He is now suing the network over the story and has accused CTV News of fabricating a "malicious and false report." CTV said it stands by its reporting.
After the initial CTV story, Tory MPPs were unanimous during a conference call late on Jan. 24 that Mr. Brown had to resign, and told him he would either put out a statement saying he was stepping down or caucus would issue a statement, according to senior party insiders. Mr. Brown initially resisted, according to the insiders, but when the conference call resumed early on the morning of Jan. 25, Mr. Brown agreed to resign.